Property Profiles is a series highlighting the people who have defined the Greater Philadelphia area and continue to chart its future–from established developers with numerous projects behind them to young visionaries who are just starting out to under-the-radar players who get everything done. Have someone you’d like to see featured? Send us an email and let us know!
This week Property Philly spoke with Mark Nicoletti, vice president and principal at Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation. PSDC was founded by his father in 1962 and owns about 80 buildings spread over the Philadelphia metro region, Harrisburg, Atlantic City and Scranton. We spoke with him about his latest project, the Towamencin Town Square, which is currently the largest mixed-use development project in Montgomery County. When finished, it will include a Courtyard Marriott hotel, luxury apartment building and a culinary school for Montgomery County Community College.
On developing Towamencin Township:
“The anomaly is that it didn’t happen in King of Prussia or Conshohocken or Plymouth Meeting.”
Nicoletti’s father first bought land there in the 1960s. PSDC continued snapping up land until just a few years ago without developing it. That changed in 2010 when they opened the North American headquarters for ball bearing manufacturer SKF in Pennsylvania’s only platinum LEED certified building. Bringing SKF to Towamencin sustainably helped create a positive relationship between the developer and the township and it helped bring some attention to the township.
Nicoletti says Towamencin was particularly poised for this kind of development because of its location – directly off a Pennsylvania Turnpike exit that is currently the hub of the Turnpike widening project – and the fact that it was never turned into a series of big-box shopping centers. “This is a community that has very strong core values,” Nicoletti says. “There are family businesses that have been there for generations.” Nicoletti credits the SKF project for generating the momentum necessary to sustain the residential phase of the development.
In addition to the office, PSDC is also about to open a culinary school that will serve the Montgomery County Community College system. Nicoletti says the culinary campus will offer 300 students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree at half the cost of the programs currently being offered in the city. A Courtyard Marriott hotel is also under construction.
On the second phase of the Towamencin Town Square project:
“We’re going to have a main street that DiBruno’s would love to be at.”
With the commercial elements just about in place, phase 2 of the project is focused on lifestyle and residential developments. Nicoletti says the group has been very strategic in planning this phase, which will involve between 1 and 1.5 million square feet of development including apartments, medical offices and satellite spaces for a large health provider and another major university. He declined to comment on particulars, but said the group would break ground on phase 2 during the second or third quarter of 2014.
On the town square’s Bridgeview Apartments:
“I’ll suggest they are the nicest apartments in Montgomery County”
The nicest and the priciest. Nicoletti says the 180 units will go for $2 per square foot, making them the highest rents in Montco. They will have the amenities to go with it, including a pool area that Nicoletti says is comparable to any private club, a gym with its own yoga studio, concierge services and the usual high-end appliances. “Finishes are key,” he says. The sales office opens in May and the first renters should be moving in this summer. In addition to nearby executives, Nicoletti says they are targeting empty-nesters and other snowbirds who may have coastal homes who want to downsize.
On PSDC’s urban redevelopment projects and working with non-profits:
“We’ve been careful since the last recession to target bigger, stronger non-profits that lead in their particular area.”
The commercial real estate group employs about 150 people in its urban redevelopment division. That group is responsible for properties that house non-profits that administer social services including daycare, job training and primary care. The division also maintains two charter school sites, KIPP Charter School in North Philadelphia and Young Scholars in the Poplar neighborhood.
Nicoletti says PSDC benefited from this area of business when the recession put a hold on traditional commercial projects. The government funds safety net projects even in times of recession. Lately, he says, that has translated to daycare facilities, some commercial kitchen training facilities and other projects aimed at training ex-offenders to rejoin the workforce.
On a new project with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program:
“They are inspiring the community to heal and accept them by … paying retribution to the community.”
PSDC owns an eight-story building at the corner of Broad and Lehigh which will soon host the largest piece Mural Arts has ever produced. Nicoletti’s group is funding about a third of the project, which will include panels of art that have been created by ex-offenders. He says the mural will cover two sides of the building, one reading “Rise” and the other reading “Shine.” Painting begins in June.
On his work as chair of the Archdiocesan Professional Society:
“It’s a great group of volunteers doing really great stuff.”
Nicoletti says the group’s primary mission is to help the Archdiocese make better business decisions. One of the group’s subcommittees, focused on real estate, is gearing up for a summer of big announcements. Nicoletti says to expect news about the Archdiocese selling the 2 acre tract of land adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul as well as 40 acres on City Line Avenue that will be sold from the St. Charles Seminary.